1 Nephi 2:19-22 — LeGrand Baker — Origin of Nephi’s Dynasty

1 Nephi 2:19-22  

19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.

These verses contain the Lord’s commission to Nephi to “be a ruler and a teacher”—a king and a priest—to bless his people. In a way that Nephi understood perfectly, the whole legitimacy of the kings and prophets of the Book of Mormon rests on the authenticity of that commission.

In our time, when most people have never encountered a king except in a book, or in the movies, the word “king” evokes an image that tends to focus on an imaginary spectrum that reaches from wicked king John who fought brave Robin Hood on one end, or, to the other extreme, modern constitutional monarchs who some think are more decorative than useful.

But an ancient Israelite king was someone quite different from anything, anywhere along that imaginary spectrum. Kings like David and Solomon, who were the ruling monarchs of Israel, were, first of all, representatives of God. As such, a king was legitimatized by being an adopted “son” of God.{1} He was not just the “head of state,” he was the state personified.{2} His decrees were the only legislation; his power was the only executive authority. His private army enforced local law and protected the nation from outside enemies. His wisdom was the nation’s supreme court.{3} In religious matters, he was a prophet{4} and the nation’s highest High Priest.{5} The easiest way to understand the meaning of “righteous king” is to examine the multiple roles of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon.

A reason why the Lord’s declaration was so important to Nephi and his posterity was that it established Nephi’s dynastic legitimacy. In ancient Israel, it was understood that the king was the representative of Jehovah in this world, and that his legitimacy rested on two necessary propositions: First, that he had been foreordained in the Council in Heaven to be king when he came to this world. Second, that, through appropriate ordinances, he be formally adopted as the son and heir of God. That was shown to be so during the Jewish temple drama of the Feast of Tabernacles.{6}

In an established dynasty, that heirship was presumed to belong to the oldest son. But when a dynasty failed, the new king had to give evidence that he had been foreordained to create a new dynasty. When Saul and his heirs were displaced by David, the Old Testament authors went to great lengths to demonstrate that David’s new dynasty was legitimate, that he was designated by God to be Israel’s king, anointed by the prophet, and that he represented Jehovah as his son and heir in Israel.

During the first Temple period, the Jewish Kings based their legitimacy on the fact that they were descended from David and could claim the Lord’s covenant with David for themselves.{7} The same concept held in the Book of Mormon, but these people were descendants of Joseph, not of Judah, so the legitimacy of their dynasty must rest on the covenant the Lord had made with Nephi. That covenant is found in the Lord’s words, “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, …And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler [king] and a teacher [priest] over thy brethren” (1 Nephi 2:19-22).

In the Book of Mormon, we see Nephi initiating a new dynasty that will last a thousand years. During those years, Nephi’s descendants will first be kings; then Chief Judge and President of the Church (Mormon makes a point of saying that he and Alma were descendents of Nephi); and finally, after the Savior came, they were the prophets who led the Church. Throughout Nephite history, almost every important leader was a direct descendent of Nephi.

Everything is done in order, so ultimately both the Lord’s kingship covenants with David and Nephi are rooted in the blessings of Abraham (see Psalms 47 and 105). Their heirs must show their family ties to the founding king—to David and to Judah; or to Nephi and to Joseph—to claim the patriarchal blessing which Jacob gave to his sons along with their attendant promises of kingship. (Genesis 49) Then through Jacob to Abraham and priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalms 110).
—————————-

FOOTNOTES

{1} “Son” is the royal new name given by God to the king in Psalm 2. And as Koester observed, “I will be his Father and he will be my Son. The quotation is from 2 Sam 7:14 (LXX), the oracle in which Nathan told David that God would establish a Davidic dynasty.” (Craig R. Koester, The Anchor Bible, Hebrews (New York, Doubleday, 2001), 191-92.

{2} Carlo Zaccagnini, “Sacred and Human Components in Ancient Near Eastern Law,” in History of Religions (33:3, February 1994), 265-286.For a discussion of the Israelite government of the Old Testament, see Stuart A. Cohen, “Kings, Priests, and Prophets, Patterns of Constitutional Discourse and Constitutional Conflict in Ancient Israel,” in Zvi Gitelman, The Quest for Utopia, Jewish Political Ideas and Institutions through the Ages (Armonk, New York, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1992), 17-40.

{3} “Judge,” here, implies something like a supreme court rather than “judge” in the sense that Sampson or Deborah were judges. “Like Egyptian kings, Israel’s kings served as the final arbiter in judicial matters (2 Samuel 14:4-20; 1 Kings 3:16-28; 2 Kings 6:26-29.” James K Hoffmeier “From Pharaoh to Israel’s Kings To Jesus,” in Bible Review (13/2, June 1997), 47.
For a discussion of Israel’s king as judge, see Aubrey R. Johnson, “Hebrew Conceptions of Kingship,” in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1958), 206-207. For a discussion of Israel’s pre-dynastic judges see, G. W. Ahlstrom, History of Religions (8:2, Nov. 1968), 94-99.

{4} For a discussion of David’s use of the Urim and Thummim, both before and after his anointing as king, see Cornelis Van Dam, The Urim and Thummim (Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1997), 187-188, 247-250.

{5} Two examples of the king acting as High Priest are: (1) David’s officiating at the sacrifice and pronouncing a blessing upon the people in the name of the Lord in 2 Kings chapter 6; and (2) Hezekiah’s taking the letter of the Assyrians into the Holy of Holies, kneeling before the throne of cherubims and showing it to the Lord, in 2 Kings 19:14-20. “And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.” (v. 14-15) For a discussion of the king as High Priest see, Aubrey R. Johnson, “Hebrew Conceptions of Kingship,” in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1958), 211-214. Geo Widengren, “King and Covenant” in Journal of Semitic Studies, vol. II, no. I, 1957, is about the ancient Israelite king’s function as a high priest and mediator of the covenant. “The Davidic dynasty acted as the true heirs of the ancient king of Jerusalem, Melchizedek, at once priest and king.” Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 75.

{6} See the chapter “Psalm 2, The Ancient Israelite Royal King-name” in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. First edition, p. 499-516; Second edition, p. 360-373.

{7} “I will be his Father and he will be my Son. The quotation is from 2 Sam 7:14 (LXX), the oracle in which Nathan told David that God would establish a Davidic dynasty.” (Craig R. Koester, The Anchor Bible, Hebrews [New York, Doubleday, 2001], 191-92.)
“YHWH swore to David, a surety from which he will not turn back: “Your offspring [I will cause to be enthroned]; I will place (them) on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant, And my stipulation which I teach them. Their children also, forever, Shall sit upon your throne. (Ps 132:11-12).
“The irrevocable nature of YHWH’s oath to David is reiterated elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, notably in the so-called “last words of David” (2 Sam 23:1-7) and in the following portion of an old liturgy: ‘Once I swore by my holiness; I will not be false to David. His seed will exist forever; And his throne like the sun before me’ (Ps 89:36-37),” (C. L.Seow, Myth, Drama, and the Politics of David’s Dance [Atlanta, Georgia, Scholars Press, 1989], 179-80).

{8} Those patriarchal blessings are found in Genesis 49.
Judah is promised, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come” (Genesis 49:10).
Joseph was given the birthright blessing: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” (Genesis 49:26).

I suppose that is, in our day, a reason a declaration saying which tribe of Israel one belongs to is a necessary part of everyone’s patriarchal blessing, and one reason why patriarchal blessings are given before one goes to the temple.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

This entry was posted in 1 Nephi. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply